Aging Parents: Generations Share Photos and Family History–a Priceless Intergenerational Activity

Regardless of current relationships, families’ histories are rooted in their common past. It’s a powerful commonality emotionally, in a good way. Or at least it was for us, as six cousins–ages 50’s to late 80’s–gathered for lunch and photo-sharing.

A far-away living child, I hadn’t seen some cousins and 2nd cousins in years. Our parents/grandparents are gone now. They were the American story. Four of the five surviving children of immigrant parents are pictured above (the eldest, born in England, is missing). When we came across this labeled photo, the feelings generated were indescribable. The girl born in S. Africa; the boy to her right born in Canada as the family made its way to the United States. Dad (left) and his younger brother (front) born in the USA.

We sifted through the photos and albums we brought, looking back a century–amazed to see our current selves in some of the faces. Some of us had only seen our grandmother with gray hair. We looked hard at her photo, into a youthful face that I, for one, would not have recognized had our older cousins not confirmed who it was.

We shared stories passed down from our parents–basically the same stories although some of the specifics differed. We looked to our older cousins for facts, finding ourselves in a situation where our elders were the stars with the most to contribute, a situation where even the biggest “know-it-alls” (and I use this expression fondly) took a back seat as we eagerly gleaned new information from those in their 80’s.

One of our older cousin’s mothers was the eldest in the family and, bless her heart, was meticulous about details. Every photo in her album had identification written under it. We realize how important it is to do this for posterity.

iPhones took pictures of the old pictures. We will email them to those who use computers. Some borrowed photos to reproduce for others. Some simply gave photos away.

Our main problem was the fact that we didn’t have enough time together. Not everyone drove. One cousin was picked up early. Another took an extended lunch hour and needed to return to work. We all agreed we had the best time and wanted to do again. 2 1/2 to 3 hours isn’t long enough.

We also realize this is an easily-planned get-together, that’s really a gift for everyone. It’s doable anywhere there are flat surfaces. Think: care center, where photos can be spread out on the bed. This kind of gathering was, for us at least, like hitting a home run when we think about enriching lives….older and younger….and helping parents age well.

Aging Parents: Family Photos Link Generations

IMG_0162Family Photos Link Generations

Photos connect us– to each other, to our families, to our heritage, to our gene-pool. They remind us of our younger selves. They rekindle the ties and feelings we have for those who’ve gone before us….grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, those we held dear and those we hold dear. Indeed, we may have inherited some of their features, some of their traits. On the other hand, some in the photo album are unnamed. We wonder who they are.

These feelings enveloped me the other day as I began cleaning out my parents’ home of 60+ years. They were accompanied by feelings of frustration as I struggled to recognize people in photos that lacked both name and date. Then it dawned on me:

Invite my cousins and one of their children (total age span about 27 years) to come for lunch, bring family photos, and look over each other’s pictures. We can each help identify unknown persons and–at least in my case because I’m cleaning out–give some of the old family photos to the cousin whose family member is in a particular photo. Fortunately one of my cousin’s daughters is fascinated by genealogy–only hesitates to go on ancesters.com because she fears she won’t surface from her computer for at least 2 weeks.

I phoned her first to test my idea.  She was enthusiastic–(surprise, surprise!) Result: she volunteered to make a salad–the party’s on.

Older cousins, well into their 80’s, sound excited about coming. We know connections are important in helping older people age well; and isn’t looking forward to something  always uplifting? Meanwhile, the younger cousins are coming with energy and enthusiasm.  Is this is a good idea or what??? (We’ll know Tuesday night when I do my next post.)

This coming Tuesday at noon  boomers, elders and those in between on Dad’s side of the family will reconnect. There will be lunch. And we will share pictures and memories from our younger years as we look at and lovingly recall, those who came before us–mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandmothers and grandfathers. They, of course, contributed to who we are today.